University News

Alum recognized for creative nonfiction

By
Contributing Writer
Monday, September 20, 2010

Rachel Aviv ’04 will receive a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award for nonfiction writing on Thursday. The award was officially announced earlier this month.

The foundation, named for late novelist Rona Jaffe, recognizes six “emerging women writers” each year for excellence in fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry, according to a foundation press release. Aviv will be honored with a $25,000 grant.

Aviv was nominated based on recommendations from writers, editors, critics and literary professionals consulted by the foundation, the press release said. The award is the only literary program in the nation aimed at supporting solely women writers.

“It’s relieved a lot of the doubts and concerns about being a freelance writer, which is particularly hard in this publishing climate,” Aviv said. “It’s been both an honor, but it also inspired me. It allows me to take risks and do the research I might not have done otherwise.”

Aviv said she will use the award money to shadow patients who are diagnosed with a 30 percent chance of developing psychosis. She plans to use material from her research to write her first book.

Aviv has been published in periodicals including the New York Times Magazine and Harper’s. She concentrated in literature & cultures in English at Brown, with an emphasis in nonfiction writing. Aviv also received her Master of Fine Arts degree in nonfiction writing from Columbia.

She has had pieces published about missionaries in public places, Braille literacy and schizophrenia. Although she has only recently begun writing about mental health, Aviv said it has interested her for a long time.

“I realized that I didn’t really know anything about schizophrenia,” Aviv said. “I guess it goes back to the idea of being drawn by topics that you didn’t really know anything about.”

Aviv cited Senior Lecturer of English Elizabeth Taylor as particularly influential in her time at Brown. Taylor taught Aviv for three years and “introduced” her to creative nonfiction, Aviv said.

“I didn’t really know it was possible to tell true stories about strangers that read like fiction,” Aviv said.

Taylor said Aviv was a “precocious” writer even in her first year.

“She really came into Brown already as an accomplished writer — very serious, very thoughtful and already thinking with the kind of complexity one sees in a junior or senior,” Taylor said. “It was clear she was meant to be a writer.”

While at Brown, Aviv also wrote for the Arts & Culture section of The Herald.

This is the 16th year the award has been given. Jaffe wrote 16 novels in her lifetime and died in 2005, the press release said.